Press Club

The Right Note: Will Virginia Avoid a Shutdown?

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Mark KellyWhat a difference two weeks make.

When last I wrote this column, Eric Cantor was still the Majority Leader of the U.S. House. Arlington was going forward with the aquatics center. Democrats controlled the state Senate. And, it was looking increasingly unlikely the General Assembly would pass a budget on time.

Much has been made of the circumstances surrounding the resignation of state Sen. Phillip Puckett. But, the fact remains that he has resigned and put Republicans in control of the Senate. Looking at the electoral results of his district, it is much more likely than not that Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the Democrats have lost control of that chamber at least through the 2015 elections.

In all likelihood, the Republican-controlled Virginia General Assembly will pass a budget to send to the Governor’s desk — as early as today. All Senate Republicans, and one Democrat, have indicated they would likely pass a budget without resolving the Medicaid question. So, the budget will look largely like the one the General Assembly could have negotiated and passed two months ago.

The Governor will then face a choice. He can veto the budget and shut the government down over the expansion of Obamacare. He can admit he does not have the votes, stop the political theater, and return to the job of governing. Or, he can proceed to expand Obamacare on his own, without legal authority.

If he vetoes the bill, it would stop the paychecks of government employees and the flow of state dollars to localities beginning on July 1. Arlington’s rainy day fund would almost certainly cover the interim costs until state funding was restored, but many localities would immediately be put in a bind.

If the Governor admits defeat in this round, he can keep the government open and make his case for a special session to try and make a deal on Medicaid. If a special session fails, he can campaign on it in 2015 and try to win enough votes in the General Assembly to ensure its passage in the next biennial budget.

The worst thing for him to do is a third, almost “nuclear option,” which is to ignore the law and try to move forward on executive authority. This would lead to a constitutional crisis where state employees would have to decide whether to adhere to state law or executive order. This course of action would put us in a state of limbo while courts sorted out the mess.

The Governor should commit to sign a budget to keep the government open and promise not to expand Medicaid without the statutory authority to do so.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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